Goldfish and Index Fingers

The toxicity of a work environment can kill you. It can make or break strategic plans and deflate morale. It can render you senseless and disoriented. A toxic environment is a place where the moral atmosphere has lost its ability to nurture the hearts of people due to the blights of secrets and lies, criticism and blame. These usually seep in so slowly people hardly notice their impact until it's too late.

The other day I was changing water in an aquarium that is home to a large goldfish. In my haste, I forgot to add the chemical agents that remove impurities and toxins from the tap water. A couple of hours later I found the goldfish listing and opting to go "belly up". He was being killed in the "comfort" of his own home.

The environment was killing him and I was to blame. So in order to keep him alive, I added the needed chemicals and continued to poke and prod him with my index finger. Every time the goldfish staggered and began to float upside down, I roused him from his near death experience. This went on for a half hour. It was then the water became purified to the point that the fish was able to right himself back to health.

The point? Toxic work and life environments are often of our own making. We must be responsible for righting the situation and consistently prodding people back to health and wholeness. If you find yourself leading in a toxic environment, you must ask what your contribution was to make it so. There's nothing worse than a leader who is above asking that question or deflecting it on to someone else. If you created the mess, own up to it, and patiently await a redemptive moment from your followers.  Non toxic environments are created through the purfication process of admission and forgiveness and the constant prodding of encouragement and hope.

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Jeff Vankooten is a speaker and author focusing on the power of resilience to effectively engage the challenges of change. He helps leaders, businesses, and organizations develop the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable business environment.
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